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International News Archive
April 01 - April 06, 2000


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This page contains news for the period Saturday, April 01, 2000 through Thursday, April 06, 2000.



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Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Canadian province launches new law making parents responsible for their kids

A story published today by the Canadian Press reports that parents in Ontario will be forced to prove in court that they have control of their children under a new bill that would make them pay for damage caused by their children.

"Under the existing law, much of the onus for proving the case is placed on the victim," Attorney General Jim Flaherty told the legislature. "We think this unfair."

As a result, the new law would shift more of the responsibility onto parents of children under 18. Under the law, victims would have to assure a small claims court that the child caused the damage in order to sue for compensation of up to $6,000.

Convictions in a criminal court wouldn't be necessary.

"The action of the young person will be deemed to be intentional; it will be deemed to have been due to the failure to supervise," Flaherty said.

The reverse responsibility on parents is what sets this bill apart from laws which are alike in other areas such as Manitoba, where it has been seldom used, and will make it "user-friendly" for victims, Flaherty said earlier.

"Parents who exercise reasonable supervision of their children and take steps to prevent property damage would not be liable."

But the opposition immediately denounced the Parental Responsibility Act as pandering to crime fears, saying it will do nothing to make communities safer.

Flaherty rejected the idea that the law could victimize the most susceptible parents, such as single parents who work long hours and may have a struggle controlling a rebellious teenager.

"I disagree with those who would apply different standards to different situations," Flaherty said. "It's regrettable that some would suggest that single parents hold themselves to any lesser standard."

New Democrat Peter Kormos called the announcement "very disturbing," saying current laws are more than adequate to deal with vandalism.

"It does nothing to improve the lot of victims (or) to help those families who are struggling with kids who are gone off track," Kormos said.

"This government is politicizing in a very cynical way the fear that people have in our communities of being victimized."

While Liberal Michael Bryant accused the Tories of being "all talk and no action" on crime, police said they welcomed the initiative.

"We're not talking about bad parenting," said Steve Reesor, Toronto's deputy police chief.
"In some cases what we're finding is that parents . . .are not taking the time to try to find out what in fact their kids are doing, who their friends are, who they're hanging out with."

In 1998, there were about 20,000 property-damage cases in youth court in Ontario. Where a criminal conviction is used to bolster the case in small claims court, the file would be sealed to protect the identity of the young offender.

Flaherty has said he expects the bill to face a constitutional challenge because it holds one person responsible for the crimes of another, but he also said he expects it will survive such a challenge.


Monday, April 3, 2000

Marriage still popular in Canada despite changes in family structures

A story published today in the Ottawa Citizen reports that even though common-law unions, same-sex couples, and lone parenting are on the rise, marriage and the traditional family are far from extinction in Canada.

"Marriage is still a strong institution and the desire people have to marry is still very high," says Alan Mirabelli, executive director of the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa. He says Canadians have always been and remain highly flexible in adjusting the family unit -- "the most dynamic institution in the world" -- to economic and social conditions, as well as through wars, recessions and cultural shifts.

"I think marriage is more exciting than it's ever been," says Ben Schlesinger, an expert on Canadian family patterns and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.

"The institution of marriage per se, the ring, etcetera, may be decreasing, but living together, couplehood, is increasing and Canadians are giving themselves many alternative ways of living their lives. That's healthy. That's the 21st century."

Common-law unions, single parenting and extended families are on the rise, most women have to work for a living, and wedding vows for same-sex couples are not the closeted affairs they once were.

The story says that despite these trends, the bigger picture shows traditional patterns intact for most people. About 85 percent of Canadians live in families and more than three-quarters of those are headed by a legally married couple. Marriage and children remain the adult goals of most teenagers. And three-quarters of marriage ceremonies are still conducted the old-fashioned way -- by a member of the clergy.

The divorce rate, which peaked after laws were changed to make divorce easier, has been declining for several years, both as a percentage of the population and as a percentage of marriages. At last count, in 1997, more than 60 per cent of marriages were expected to survive. And marriages that did end in divorce were lasting longer, an average of some 13.3 years.

Fewer marriages, more divorces in Russia

A story published today by Tass News Agency reports that changes in family structures are occurring in Russia just as they are in Western societies.

Russia's population may also decrease by 29 million to 121 million people by the year 2050, Svetlana Goryacheva, Chairwoman of the State Duma's Committee for Women, Family and Youth Affairs, told a press conference on Monday.

The committee also reports that the number of marriages has decreased by half in the country, with half of the marriages ending in a divorce.

The situation is caused, in particular, by the low level of life and poor possibilities to find a job for young specialists, Goryacheva believes.


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